Zebre ideal opposition to get Lam reign off to flier
PAT LAM has emphasised the need for Connacht to make a positive impression against Zebre in their opening game of the season at the Sportsground today (5.0).
Lam is clearly excited to get his tenure as head coach under way and it must be a huge relief to have Zebre – who lost all 22 Pro12 games last season – first up. Anything other than a comfortable home win is inconceivable.
"We want the win," said Lam. "Everything we have been doing in pre-season has been geared towards this game and we are ready to go."
The New Zealander is understandably excited to begin what everyone hopes will be a period of real growth and evolution for the province. He has shrewdly appointed veteran second-row Michael Swift as captain for this afternoon's game. Swift is the highest-capped player for both Connacht and the Celtic League.
He is thoroughly respected by his team-mates and will be a galvanising influence for the team and fans.
While there are a number of injury absentees, Lam has named a strong line-up, including the returning Fionn Carr on the right wing.
Carr, Connacht's most prolific try-scorer, will be determined to pick up where he left off before moving to Leinster in 2011. He is joined in the back three by Ireland international Robbie Henshaw and Matt Healy.
Brett Wilkinson, who was granted Irish citizenship last month having arrived at Connacht in 2006, makes up the front-row trio with Jason Harris-Wright and Nathan White.
George Naoupu (left) starts at No 8, earning his 50th cap for the province.
Zebre ran Connacht close in their two meetings last season and have added to their squad. They have five debutants in their XV, in Kiwis Dion Berryman and Brendon Leonard, Fijians Kameli Ratuvou and Samuela Vunisa and Italian prop Dario Chistolini.
They won their three pre-season games against French division two opposition, so will go into today's game full of confidence.
Connacht – R Henshaw; F Carr, D Poolman, E Griffin, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright, N White; M Swift, A Browne; J Muldoon, W Faloon, G Naoupu. Reps: SHenry, R Ah You, R Loughney, A Muldowney, J Heenan, F Murphy, C Ronaldson, T O'Halloran.
Zebre – D Berryman; G Venditti, K Ratuvou, G Garcia, G Toniolatti; L Orquera, B Leonard; M Aguero, D Giazzon, D Chistolini; Q Geldenhuys, M Bortolami; M Bergamasco, A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa. Reps: A Manici, L Redolfini, S Perugini, G Biagi, F Ferrarini, A Chillon, T Iannone, M Pratichetti.
Ref – R Thomas (Wales)